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Outstanding In Our Field: Biltmore’s Farming Legacy

Written By Jean Sexton

Posted 10/10/22

Updated 04/09/24

Estate History

When it comes to farming history, Biltmore is truly outstanding in the field. Learn about how we continue to honor this agricultural legacy by connecting our present and future initiatives to our historic past.

Archival image of men cutting hay at Biltmore
Archival photograph of our farming history: estate workers harvesting hay at Biltmore

Establishing a legacy

When George Vanderbilt began planning his grand estate in Asheville, North Carolina, his vision was twofold. First, he wanted to create a relaxing place to entertain friends and family. Just as important, however, was his desire to preserve the Blue Ridge Mountain beauty surrounding his home.

In choosing Frederick Law Olmsted, world-renowned landscape architect, to design the expansive gardens and grounds of Biltmore Estate, Vanderbilt was not only setting the stage for some of the most remarkable gardens in America, but he was also availing himself of Olmsted’s years of experience in managing vast tracts of public and private land.

An archival photo of our farming history at Biltmore
Archival farm image of the Historic Horse Barn and Line House Cottages for Biltmore Dairy employees.

Olmsted’s advice

After visiting the property in 1889 with Vanderbilt, Olmsted wrote: “My advice would be to make a small park into which to look from your house; make a small pleasure ground and garden, farm your river bottom chiefly to keep and fatten livestock with view to manure, and make the rest a forest, improving the existing woods and planting the old fields.”

Vanderbilt agreed with Olmsted’s recommendations, including the suggestion that agricultural operations be developed and that Vanderbilt implement Olmsted’s long-term plan for sustainability. From this decision came the nation’s first planned forestry program and the beginning of a family focus on environmental stewardship that continues today with George Vanderbilt’s descendants who still own and manage Biltmore.

Archival photo of estate workers and residents at the Market Gardener's Cottage at Biltmore
Agricultural workers and estate residents at the Market Gardener’s Cottage, photographed in front of an elaborate display of estate-raised produce,

Farmer Vanderbilt

Agricultural operations at Biltmore were intended to achieve three goals: supplying dairy products, meat, poultry, fruits, and vegetables for use in Biltmore House; providing income through sales of farm products; and serving as a learning laboratory in successful farming for farmers and educators.

Receipts and invoices in the estate’s archives document the construction of farm buildings and cottages, the purchase of animals, supplies, and equipment, and the hiring of farm staff beginning as early as September 1889.

Agricultural programs included beef, pork, and poultry farms, an apiary, vegetable gardens, fruit orchards, hay for livestock, and more. The most successful of these initiatives would be Biltmore Dairy, which eventually became one of the largest operations in the southeast.

Biltmore Forestry
Our emphasis on managed forestry continues today across the estate.

Forestry continues on the estate

Today, more than 4,000 acres of the estate are managed under a plan written by a certified consulting forester. We utilize selection harvest in 15-year rotations, allowing a chance for different species to grow and mature.

Instead of focusing on just a profitable bottom line, Biltmore strives to create a true multiuse sustainable forest: one that provides healthy wildlife habitats, beautiful aesthetics, recreation opportunities, and the ability to persist for generations to come.

Man standing in front of cattle
Kyle Mayberry, Director of Agriculture, oversees Biltmore’s current farming operations.

Today’s agricultural operations

Biltmore currently farms approximately 2,500 acres of land. This includes our estate vineyards, cropland for grains and forages, pasturage for cattle, chickens, hogs, sheep, and horses, and greenhouses that supply estate restaurants with fresh produce.

To help preserve one of its most valuable resources—the land—Biltmore seeks to continue the tradition of resource stewardship by following best agricultural practices including rotational grazing of livestock; rotating crops on a four-year cycle to help reduce soil erosion and increasing soil fertility; and using goats to control invasive plant species in areas of steep terrain, which allows maintenance crews to take on other projects while reducing some diesel fuel usage in equipment.

As part of our farm history, we raise heritage hog breeds that George Vanderbilt favored
One way we continue our farming legacy is by raising some of the same heritage breeds that George Vanderbilt favored like these Berkshire hogs.

Connecting our past and present farm history

Biltmore continues to honor George Vanderbilt’s legacy of preserving the land and protecting the environment through many ecological, recycling, and alternative energy programs.

Guests visiting the 8,000-acre estate can take a deeper look into our agricultural history at Antler Hill Barn, where you can see antique farming equipment, watch craft demonstrations, and visit friendly farm animals at the Farmyard, and through the Farm to Table Tour & Taste guided experience, which includes a special tour of Biltmore’s farms on the rarely-seen West Side of the estate.

Featured image: Archival image of Edith Vanderbilt operating a farm tractor while her daughter Cornelia and others watch.

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